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One of the Greatest Gifts I Have Ever Received

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By Kelly Cox

At the IMF, I run the Regional Community Workshop program and serve as a Regional Director of Support Groups. I frequently find myself travelling to patient and medical meetings across the country. My aim is to bring the IMF's mission directly to those affected by myeloma, as well as to the healthcare professionals who serve them.

In June 2011, I was attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, Illinois. While taking a short break from the IMF booth, I found myself walking the aisles of the convention hall. One of the booths I passed had no visitors, so I stopped to say a neighborly hello.

The DKMS Americas (dkmsamericas.org) representatives were at ASCO to promote their cause and to solicit potential bone marrow donors. The process was simple. A painless swab of the inside of my cheek and I was on my way to becoming part of DKMS's database. I didn't give it a second thought. I practically forgot this ever happened.

In August 2011, I received a call from the New York offices of DKMS. It seemed that I was a possible match for a woman in her early 20s who needed a transplant for acute aplastic anemia. The sample collected from me at ASCO matched all the preliminary selection criteria. Even at that point in time, the whole concept of being a donor remained pretty abstract for me.

Things started becoming a bit more "real" over the following 4-5 days when I started donating vials of blood for the next stage of the matching process. In total, 21 vials of my blood were collected at a local Los Angeles clinic. The next step could not take place in LA, so it was time for me to fly to the Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, CA.

They were so nice to me. They took great care of me and my wife, Mary. My niece and Mary's best friend were with us for support. The day before the collection procedure, we walked around the Berkeley campus, had a sandwich and some gelato. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I felt so happy and so excited in anticipation of the next morning. I stayed up most of that night because I was too energized and giddy to go to sleep. The mere thought of what was to come gave me goose bumps.

At 7 a.m., as I was waking up from the anesthesia, my bone marrow was already aboard a plane heading for an unnamed destination on the East Coast where the recipient was waiting. 176 punctures in my back and pelvic bones yielded 1.5 liters of bone marrow, more than enough for the recipient's transplant. As I lay in the hospital bed recovering from the bone marrow "taps," watching the two pints of blood I had "banked" being re-infused into me, the magnitude of the experience began to sink in.

Now let me back up for a moment. I must confess that I read none of the materials given to me in preparation for the collection procedure. I just didn't want to know what I was getting myself into. In hindsight, maybe this was because I did not want to learn something that might have discouraged me from moving forward. I felt fully committed and I wanted nothing to stand in the way.

The only question I remember asking in advance was addressed to Dr. Morie A. Gertz of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  Dr. Gertz is a member of the IMF's Scientific Advisory Board, a frequent faculty presenter at the IMF's patient education meetings, and an all-round great guy. He told me that a patient with acute aplastic anemia had a 95% chance of survival after a well-matched donor transplant. That was all I needed to hear.

Being a donor is a personal choice. While I certainly appreciated all the support I received from friends and family members throughout the process, I did not expect the outpouring of positive messages I received via my Facebook page, many of them from strangers or from people I had lost touch with over the years.

Oddly, the emotional impact of the entire experience hits home now, after the fact, more than it did before or during the donation process. I get choked up when I think of it and, especially, when I think of that young woman. I hope that the transplant was successful and that it has given her a fresh start. I catch myself wishing that she has a full and productive life and, whenever she is up for it, I hope that she will find a way to be of service to someone else who is in need of help.

The donation was anonymous. While I would love to meet my recipient, there is no telling if this will ever happen. In the meantime, I would want her to know a few things about me. I am 53 years old and I have spent most of my life trying to be of service, trying to make this world a better place. I work for a wonderful non-profit organization, alongside colleagues who spend each and every day making the lives of others better and healthier. I have a newfound empathy and admiration for the myeloma patients I work with who undergo transplantation as part of their cancer therapy.

I've been told I have a big heart and I really do I care about helping people. I feel honored and grateful to have had an opportunity to be a donor. If she ever needs it, I will be here for the same recipient again in the future. And I have gone on to donate blood and platelets through two additional organizations in hopes of helping more people.

Emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually I am absolutely blown away by the experience. And I am still struggling to wrap my mind around the concept of possibly saving a life. Without a doubt, this was one of the most important events and accomplishments of my life.


Fantastic Kelly. Bone marrow/stem cell donors often tell me they are impacted by doing this selfless act as much as the recipient. Depending on the circumstances there's typically a 1 or 2-yr waiting period before meeting the recipient....hope this happens for you. See you at our July SF Bay Area MM support group mtg.

At one time I was a regular blood and platlet donor and likely contributed more that a gallon for others. Seventeen years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and that stopped my donations. I still see a doctor every 3 months alternating between Houston, M D Alnderson, and Austin, Cancer Center of America. I have no pain and have received no drugs for MM for 5 years. I cannot say I am cured, but I certainly feel good. I devote most of my time to non profit or church organizations. Maybe the fact I had been a donor and likely saved others, I have been blessed with MM which causes no problems. Being there for others is a life time of service. Thank you Lord for us donors like Jack Aiello.

Kelly, quite simply, you DO make the world a better place! Thanks for all you do!


GOD BLESS YOU KELLY COX! Your blog brought tears to my eyes as I thought of that young woman, my kids ages.. being so sick and some stranger thousands of miles helping save her life. I know you have a great heart and sharing this story should inspire others. I wish I could donate this way, but being a Myeloma patient I have to donate in other ways...
Thank you for all you do!
Kathy & Jeff, Marykate & Chris

I'm so very proud of you, Kelly!! And I admire your kind, generous and brave act of bone marrow donation. This is much more complex than apheresis, or stem cell collection. You are truly a mensch!

You gave A piece of yourself to save another person
That is the ultimate gulf. God bless you

What a fantastic story Kelly! Wouldn't the world be a better place if we had more people willing to give of themselves, literally, such as you have done. You can be proud of your generous gift of life. Thanks for boosting the humanity in all of us. Jim

Kelly - That was a really nice story. Your gift will be felt by the family of this woman for generations to come. I wish her the best and hope one day she can meet you and get to know the gentleman you are. All my best, Elliot

You are a great person to have donated. I was the recipient of an unrelated donor transplant last year. It was done as consolidation therapy after I was in my first remission. They are truly miraculous procedures. If I was not Blessed enough to have a matched Donor, I would have had to endure never ending cycles of Revlimid, Velcade, carfilzomib, DEX etc. Thanks to my Donor I have a great QOL and a chance of being cured.

I was very excited to find out that my Donor would like to contact me. I get emotional everytime I think about my Donor. She did something life changing for me. It is fascinating to read how a Donor feels. Thanks for this great piece and for bringing attention to DKMS Americas. I realize most myeloma Doctors and patients "bad mouth" allo transplants, but I am thankful my Doctor recommended I do one as part of my first line therapy. I am even more thankful that there are people like you and my Donor in the world.

For those of us who have had the pleasure of meeting and working with you, it comes as no surprise that you would graciously be a donor. Happy for you that you got the chance to make a lifesaving intervention for someone.
We all appreciate your humor and patience with all of us.
Thanks for sharing the story.

You do make the world a better place. Awareness needs to be given to how easy it is to become part of the bone marrow registry. Thanks for sharing.

Kelly, your history of helping another human being is something that make us believe that iour world is full of good people (angels) like you ready to help, God bless you

I haven't had the pleasure of meeting you, although, I would love to. I have gotten distracted from putting together a support group for N. Calif MM patients and caregivers at Sutter here in Sacramento, but I haven't forgotten.

Your act of selflessness exemplifies how our actions as human beings can change the world one day and one person at a time.

We met you at a Myeloma conference at the Nevada Cancer Institute in Las Vegas. Your sunshine personality is very memorable. God Bless you for the good will you spread and for your life giving donation.


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